fresh bread

Brace yourself: this is kind of a bad story. Well, it starts off bad and then it gets good but then, it turns bad again. I’m going to tell it anyway because (a) it’s honest and (b) it involves bread (and don’t you think all stories that involve bread should be told? I do).

So. I’ll start by saying, there was a week back in early January, a dark week, when I must have tried at least four different bread recipes. Four different recipes. And thing was, whether I used bread flour or regular flour, made rolls or loaves—heck, even when I used a bread maker, which requires you to, I kid you not, dump things inside and press GO—the results were the same: failure.

Big, fat failure.

Thankfully, that awful week culminated in a near success or, if you had talked to me the night I made them, SWEET! VICTORY! by way of no-knead baguettes, not to mention a vacation away from here, both of which helped me to forget about bread for a while.

bread from farther away

But, as is often the case with things you distract yourself from, eventually bread came back to mind. (Cue good part of story!) Two months seemed like a long enough separation, it was time to try again and, by serendipity maybe, my old friend Jennifer, who’s known me since preschool (or longer?), posted her favorite bread recipe on Facebook.

It used whole grains and, what’s more, it used soaked whole grains, which just means you “soak” the grains/flour in water and buttermillk and oil for 12 to 24 hours, allowing enzymes, lactobacilli and other stuff to neutralize the phytic acid and break down starches (i.e., make everything easier to digest and simpler for you to get the nutritional benefit of).

bread on table

I started things last Thursday night, when I mixed all the ingredients in a giant bowl (the recipe requires a total ELEVEN CUPS OF FLOUR and makes FOUR LOAVES, which is a perfect example of why one should read the whole recipe before making it). I mixed it all together into a good dough and covered it. Then I went to work on Friday and out to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D and returned to my soaked grains a little more than 24 hours after I’d left them.

I activated the yeast, added it to the dough, kneaded it all (again: ELEVEN CUPS OF FLOUR, people. Oh, I kneaded it good.) and put it in the barely warm oven to rise. Sometime around midnight, I baked three loaves and two trays of dinner rolls.

bread with butter and honey

When I pulled them out of the oven, all dark and golden, I could have cried, I was so happy. THIS is what bread should look like! THIS is what bread should smell like! And when I flipped one out of its pan, slicing a thick, soft, sweet slice to top with butter: THIS is what bread should taste like!

I told at least three people that I was over the moon about this bread. It was beautiful! It had risen! It tasted like the brown bread at Cheesecake Factory!

But. Just before I could come over here to this place where we talk about food together, I reached the middle of the first loaf (the second given away and the third in the freezer) and realized a change in texture: it was a little more dense, with tiny ribbons of, I don’t know, something I didn’t like, and while I still ate the bread, I didn’t love it anymore. What happened? Since I can’t decide if it was me or the bread (or both? neither?), I really don’t know what else to say except: that’s what happened.

Now, your bread stories. Share?




Soaked Whole Grain Bread
Adapted from my friend Jennifer, who adapted it from Passionate Homemaker

Ingredients:
Step one:
1 cup buttermilk (or you can substitute with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or lemon juice plus 3/4 cup water, which is what I did)
3 cups water
9 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose, or whole wheat)
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup honey (Jennifer recommends adding an extra 2–3 tablespoons, so I did!)
3/4 cup olive oil (or coconut oil, or melted butter)

Step Two:
1/2 cup water (between room temperature and slightly warm, or between 100–115 degrees)
1 teaspoon honey
2 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (or 2 packages)

Step Three:
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt or regular table salt
2–4 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (Super cheap in the bulk bins at the grocery store. This helps with the bread’s texture. I used the maximum amount this past time, and the bread came out nice and light and fluffy.)
1 cup flour (unbleached all-purpose, or whole wheat pastry) only if the dough seems overly sticky

Directions:
1. Combine all the ingredients from step one, cover, and let sit for 12–24 hours. (For more on the benefits of soaking the grains, click here.)

2. After soaking, activate the yeast by combining the ingredients from step two and letting it sit for 5 minutes, or until fully proofed (bubbly and foamy).

3. After activating the yeast, combine the yeast mixture with the soaked flour and add the remaining ingredients from step three. Knead for approximately 8–10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Remove to a greased bowl and cover with a towel. Let sit until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Punch down and divide into 4 loaves*. Roll each of the 4 portions with a rolling pin into a rectangle and roll up into a loaf. Place seam-side down in greased bread pans and let them rise again until doubled, about 30–45 minutes. (The best place is the oven! Just turn it on low 150–170 degrees until heated and then turn it off prior to putting the loaves in).

5. After rising, turn the oven on to 350 degrees and bake for 30–45 minutes. Bread is done when it is golden brown on all sides. Remove from oven and rest in pans for 10 minutes before removing from pans.

*Alternatively, you can use the dough to make dinner rolls, which is what I did for the fourth loaf. They were great!

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Jenny

    oh, ugh. I once made at least 3 batches of failed dinner rolls before realizing perhaps it was my yeast that was old and tired and not that my kitchen was too cold to allow a proper rise. *sigh*

  2. kate

    I’ve been working with recipes in the bread book ‘Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes’ and the recipes have come out well. It’s a ‘no-knead’ method where you simply mix up the ingredients, chill it overnight and then form one loaf at a time to bake off. The dough sits in your fridge for up to a week, and it gets a good sour personality in the process. The bread is flavorful, and best of all, it’s healthy. It’s been working for me, and the best part is that the tasks are so minimal to produce a good loaf of bread. You might like it!

  3. Lan

    i enjoy making bread, something about the kneading and basically punching it to death is therapeautic. i’ve had my epic failures and THANK GOODNESS i always have people who’ll eat the creations anyway, even when i won’t.
    i’ve been lamenting as of late about the lack of bread in my life, as i still refuse to BUY it now that i know how to BAKE it. i will make this particular bread because you’ve endorsed it but also because it reads like a science project. it’ll get my bio-chemist roommate in on the act & anything she & i do together usually ends in hilarity. (we have an all natural bread book that reads like a science textbook, which makes me want to bunt it like a football but she reads up like our lives depend on it). i will of course, half the recipe. :)

  4. Maria

    Here is my bread story: I am terrified – deep-down, irrationally terrified – to bake the stuff.

    I’ve bought yeast. I’ve tended a sourdough starter. I’ve clipped recipes that look nice. I have a lovely heavy enamel pot that’s pleading for the no-knead bread of food blogging lore.

    And I’m terrified. Of using the right flour, and kneading just so, of my oven’s heat … mostly of ending up with rocks for loaves that no one will eat.

    But with each loaf and story I read – like this one – I think maybe I could bake some bread, one day.

  5. Hannah

    Yay for semi-victories! Bread is SO HARD especially when you’re using whole grains. Every time I’ve tried to worth with whole wheat it hasn’t come out very well.

    I’m super curious about the ribbony texture was. If you figure it out, let us know!

  6. Kendra @ My First Kitchen

    I’ve never baked an awesome loaf of bread either. I got Peter Reinhart’s book as a present to myself though, and it’s time for redemption. If it works out as beautifully as the book makes it sound like it will, I’ll let you know and we’ll cry over bread together. Totally legitimate.

  7. katie

    I haven’t baked bread in such a long time – I suppose because of failures. I have, however, figured out how to make perfect pizza crusts! They work pretty much everytime. I know the recipe is just about the same – but science or art- the bread has alluded me as of late. This recipe looks way overwhelming, but I certainly applaud your efforts.

  8. celeste

    Not yeast bread but quick bread, biscuits.
    So, what happened is this.
    I had our study group over for dinner and we had just invited a new couple to join us.
    I made my biscuits. They looked wonderful.
    My guests served up, I took a plate last and sat down.
    I took one bite of the biscuit and realized how awful they were.
    I put my plate down, threw up my hands and said rather loudly,
    “STOP do not eat those biscuits”
    The baking powder had gone bad (yes it happens) and the biscuits had a bad metallic taste.
    The new guy smiled and said, “good, I thought it was just me” and I discreetly went into your kitchen and threw them (he had two) into the garbage.
    I love my honest friends.

  9. postcollegecook

    I feel your ongoing frustration with bread – I’ve had pizza dough that didn’t rise, rolls that didn’t rise and bread that I had to turn into flatbread. The first time I got bread to rise at all, it wasn’t even fully risen when I baked it but I couldn’t have been more thrilled!

  10. Lisa

    Bread stories, do i ever have bread stories. I am just now starting to get the hang of it. Not too long ago there were the succesfull string of baguettes, jim lahey’s no-knead bread (which i’m not a tremendous fan of), some really delicious pizza dough (i can’t for the life of me remember the recipe I used), some amazing pita breads and of course I finally over came my soda bread issues (really? soda bread? that’s supposed to be so easy how did i originally screw it up?). Of course I had my share of failures (sourdough loaf, some horribly cardboard-like whole wheat pizza dough), and my uncanny ability to undercook every single loaf of bread I make. EVER. Way back in the day there was some acceptable potato bread and a decent grainy oat sandwich bread. The bread that stands out the most in my mind though? Well, that would be my recent brioche hamburger buns. THOSE are what I am most proud of and you know what’s even better? 10 of the 15 people who came over to bbq with me that night had no idea they were homemade. They asked where I bought them because they were so good. I just smiled ear to ear and told them I made them.

  11. thedabble

    Bread is one of very few things I think twice about making. I recently tried a simple soda bread recipe from Bon Appetit, in an article about an actual Irish inn’s recipe but it turned out awful. The outside was overdone and the inside was dough, not cooked one bit.

    I have had plenty of bread heartache and was raised with a breadmaker that my aunt couldn’t quite master but would still insist her nieces eat what she produced and she tried several times a week (shivers). I commend you on your gung-ho actions though.

  12. Shannalee

    Jenny, Exactly, it’s the crazy, finicky, everything-has-to-be-perfect-for-it-to-work yeast! So frustrating!

    Kate, That actually sounds excellent. I will look into it!

    Lan, Do you know how happy it makes me to know you’re going to try this? Please tell me how it goes for you. I would LOVE to know yours turns out better. Maybe you can help me.

    Maria, I just loved your comment so much. It made me happy. You get it.

    Heather, A couple loaves each week? So ambitious and inspiring, you are!

    Hannah, Ha! Semi-victory indeed. It is a step in the right direction, yes? And the ribbons: soooo weird. All I kept thinking was some kind of underdeveloped yeast? Or something like that? No clue. Ugh.

    Sara, You’re sweet. Thanks for the empathy and support!

    Tim, Gosh I know. 11 CUPS.

    Kendra, The image of us crying over good bread we made totally made me smile tonight. Thank you for that.

    Katie, Well congrats on the pizza crust! That is nothing to scoff at, truly!

    Celeste, And I LOVED your comment. The part where you told everyone to STOP eating the biscuits had me cracking up. SOOO something I would do, ha!

    Jessica, Seriously, how bad does someone have to be at bread-making to mess it up in the machine, right? Yet I did. I think that is a skill unto itself really.

    Postcollegecook, Oh that comment is comforting. At least other people understand. Thank you!

    Lisa! Lisa! Bless you. Loved all your stories, but especially the happy ending of your awesome hamburger buns! Way to go!

    Thedabble, Ugh I so relate to your Bon Appetit bread story! You cracked me up with the shivers comment – oh the things people make children do, haha!

    Allison, Well I wouldn’t say I conquered it, ha! But a step in the right direction is something, at least. :)

  13. Pingback: How to Lose Weight with Low Carbs the Right Way

  14. Shelley

    Shanna, Craig and I just enjoyed looking around your blog. It is amazing all that you are doing here. You have come along way with this blog. It is so outstanding. I only wish I had the ability to try out all your recipes. Love ya, Shell

  15. Sprout

    I’ve always been a bit afraid myself to make ‘real bread’ …. thanks for the boost in confidence!

    If the old adage ‘Success builds on success’ is true, I can’t wait to see what you churn out next!

    Thanks for sharing. And congratulations!

  16. Jennifer

    Wow, how exciting! When I saw the picture, I thought right away that it looked like a familiar loaf! :) I’m so thrilled that you liked it and honored that you blogged about it. My friend Elissa, who also reads your blog, introduced me to it.

    Strange about those ribbons, though.

    This weekend was the first time that this recipe didn’t come out quite right for me, and it’s still really good — but I forgot about it in the second rising, and it rose way too much. So it has a few holes here and there, but it’s not bad. I tried making dinner rolls since you said that it worked for you, but I left them in the oven too long. Oh well. I’ll pay more attention next time!

    One experiment I tried successfully this time was mixing some things in before I rolled it up for the second rising. For one loaf, I added cinnamon and mixed dried fruit. Yum, yum, yum! For another loaf, I added melted butter and shredded cheddar and parmesan cheese. Oh, that was good! The loaves came out a little funny because they rose too long, but otherwise they were great. I will definitely try mixing things in more often from now on.

    Thanks for the better explanation of why the soaking thing happens. I do it obediently but hadn’t studied it enough to know why! :)

  17. jessiev

    i love this!!

    first, i want heather’s recipe to add to the collection. i’ve done the healthy bread in 5 min and kept it in the fridge. after a few days, it was WAY too sour for us and we gave up. ugh. that said, i love bread making, not the kneading part, though, so i am grateful for smaller recipes and my kitchenaid that does the work for me.

    thanks for the tip on the bon app irish soda bread recipe, thedabble. it was on my list to do today. i’ll stick with the cooks illustrated one! :)

    LOVE BREAD! shannalee – YOU CAN DO IT!

  18. Shannalee

    Shelley, Oh, that’s so sweet of you guys. Thanks for looking around and for the encouragement!

    Sprout, You are kind to see the positive side of this, ha! Thank you.

    Jennifer, Thank you again for the recipe! I can tell, seriously, that it was me, not the recipe, that was the problem here. It’s hard for me to follow things very carefully… sigh. But your success with this is inspiring. Someday I will try it again!

    JessieV, Listen to you! You sound like quite the bread maker, and I am so impressed. Thanks to you too for the encouragement, btw. I need all I can get when it comes to bread. Sigh.

  19. Amanda

    I have had similar, rather inconsistent – and sometimes awful – experiences with bread baking. And, I have made this recipe several times. I just made it again this week, and it’s finally working for me.

    Here’s what I can tell you: once I got my grain mill, my bread experiences drastically changed. Freshly milled grain makes whole-grain bread baking a pleasure. It just makes all the difference.

    That, and owning a heavy-duty mixer (I have a Bosch) which kneads for you. Making a huge recipe like this is a BEAR trying to do it by hand.

    I cannot imagine trying to make whole-grain bread without those two devices. Oh, wait. Yes, I can…..been-there-done-that!!! LOL!

  20. George Erdosh

    11 cups of flour? Wow! Enough bread for a small army. I am on old-time bread baker (no bread machine for me) and usually start with 7 cups that yields 2 good-sized loaves (1.5 lb each). I never use a loaf pan, prefer freeform loaves like you get in artisan bakeries and my bread are excellent, approaching that of a good bakery.
    Bread baking is easy and really very therapeutic even I use a food mixer with a dough hook for kneading.
    I would love to be your guest blogger on bread baking.

    George, author of What Recipes Don’t Tell You–from Appetizers to Zucchini

  21. Shannalee

    Kim (I could have sworn I responded to this comment already?) – you are so impressive! That first bread looked way good.

    Amanda, I loved reading your comment! Thanks for the empathy and for the tips. I have heard really good things about grain mills, and I’ll be honest: I want one now. Also – your heavy-duty mixer? Sounds like heaven. I do have a refurbished stand mixer, but it JUMPS off the track when there’s a dough inside. !?

    George, I know. It was such a monster. Your freeform loaves do sound good though – and you’re right, kneading can be very therapeutic.

  22. Cassie

    I’m revisiting recipes I’d saved to make one day. Well, maybe one day has come. It’s just me and the fiance around here so I’m wondering if I could halve this recipe and get the same result?
    And much congrats on your engagement. So exciting, enjoy every moment of it!

  23. Kayla

    I have tried this recipe before from Passionate Homemaking (love her site as well) and it didn’t turn out quite right, I think my issue is in the kneading/rising portion. Anyway, I want to try it again but I’ve been trying to get more into ancient grains and lower gluten flours. Just wondering if anyone has tried different flours for this… on hand I have spelt, kamut, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and of course unbleached white, red wheat, and pastry flour. I would love to up the nutrition and digestibility of this bread with trying alternative flours, any thoughts??? Thanks!

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